Polygamist trial jury hears recording of alleged rape

SAN ANGELO, Texas Wed Aug 3, 2011 7:09pm EDT

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SAN ANGELO, Texas (Reuters) - Prosecutors finished presenting their sexual assault case against polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs on Wednesday by playing a recording of his alleged rape of a 12-year-old girl for jurors.

In response, Jeffs -- who is representing himself in his own defense -- entered the entire Book of Mormon into evidence and read parts of it into the record.

Jeffs has repeatedly said that his freedom of religion protects his right to practice polygamy, which has been condemned by the Mormon church.

Jeffs, 55, is charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child, for his relationship with the 12-year-old, and aggravated sexual assault for his relationship with a 14-year-old girl. Authorities allege that Jeffs had "spiritual" marriages with both the girls, and fathered a child with the older girl.

The self-proclaimed "prophet" and leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a banned offshoot of the Mormons which says men have to have three wives to be admitted into heaven, faces 119 years in prison if convicted on both charges.

Prosecutors on Wednesday presented what were called "priestly records," items seized during an April 2008 raid on the Yearning for Zion polygamist compound in rural West Texas. The records detail Jeffs' relationships with the girls, and were shown to jurors Wednesday on a large projection screen as Texas Ranger Nick Hanna read them out loud.

"She is full of faith and sweetness," Hanna read in a notation allegedly written by Jeffs. "Keep sweet" in the FLDS church is a common phrase referring to a member's willingness to follow the principles of the religion and avoid provocation to anger or other negativity.

Hanna said the rape of the 12-year-old girl took place in the temple, a large white structure that towers over the other buildings on the sprawling ranch, which Jeffs built in the rural cattle country starting in 2003.

"She experienced the heavenly session and obtained a greater testament," Hanna quoted Jeffs as writing about his sexual encounter with the girl. "She felt the all consuming fire of heaven."

The jury then listened to an audio recording that Jeffs secretly made of the incident, in which the voices of both Jeffs and the girl can be heard.

At the end of the recording, both the girl and Jeffs say "Amen."

As he has throughout the trial, Jeffs sat alone at his table and objected to the items being admitted as evidence against him.

"I expect to seek Constitutional protection from federal intervention," he told Judge Barbara Walther.

As she has throughout the trial, Walther rejected all of Jeffs' objections.

On Wednesday afternoon, Jeffs read from the section of the Book of Mormon called "Doctrines and Covenants."

Devout Mormons believe the Doctrines and Covenants are the messages that church founder Joseph Smith received directly from God, and are for many the foundation stone of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

To help the jury "interpret" the Mormon holy book, Jeffs called J.D. Roundy, who described himself as a teacher from Utah and a sect member.

"Have you ever seen happiness in this religion," Jeffs asked Roundy.

"Yes," Roundy replied.

Jeffs' opening statement never mentioned his guilt or innocence on the charges he is facing, but was a rambling claim that the sect is being persecuted.

"The need for religious protection has been on this protection for years," Jeffs told the court. "This religion is not brought up by the whims of man. I ask you to be open, and remember freedom of religion."

Testimony was expected to resume Thursday.

(Editing by Karen Brooks and Greg McCune)

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